How to Prevent Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, STIs impact young people the most. In fact, almost half of all new infections in the U.S. in 2018 were among people aged 15-24.

STIs are just infections. They have no inherent moral or immoral component and infect people regardless of race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. Arming yourself with education and awareness can help destigmatize STIs and help you take control of your reproductive health.

Learn more about STIs, STI prevention, and how to get STI testing and treatment at ACCESS below:

What is an STI?

STI stands for sexually transmitted infection. STIs pass from one person to another through vaginal, oral, and anal sex. They also can spread through intimate physical contact like heavy petting, though this is not very common.

There are different types of STIs. Refer to this resource from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to learn more.

Why is STI testing important?

Getting an STI test is the only way to know if you have an STI. There are different types of STI tests available depending on you and your provider’s concerns, but they are all typically quick and painless. Testing is important because even if you aren’t showing any signs or symptoms,  you could unknowingly spread the infection to your partner.

When left untreated, STIs can cause serious long-term health effects such as infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, or cervical cancer.

Who should get an STI test?

If you’ve had any kind of sexual contact that can spread STIs — like vaginal, anal, or oral sex — talk with an ACCESS provider about getting tested. Depending on certain lifestyle factors, you may want to be tested more frequently.

What are some symptoms of an STI?

Different STIs have different symptoms. Some signs of STIs include:

  • Sores or bumps on and around your genitals, thighs, or butt cheeks
  • Abnormal discharge from your vagina or penis
  • Burning when you pee and/or having to pee a lot
  • Itching, pain, irritation and/or swelling in your penis, vagina, vulva, or anus
  • Flu-like symptoms like fever, body aches, swollen glands, and feeling tired.

These symptoms can be caused by something other than an STI so the best way to confirm an STI infection is to get tested. 

Could I still have an STI even if I don’t have any of the symptoms listed?

Yes. In some cases, individuals show no signs or symptoms, the symptoms are mild, or they come and go. The only way to know if you have an STI is to get tested. Talk to your provider about any changes in your health, and they can help you figure out what to test for.

How can I prevent STIs?

The most reliable way to avoid infection is to not have sex (i.e., anal, vaginal, or oral) but that may not be realistic. Here are some additional ways to prevent STIs:

  • Get Vaccinated. Vaccines are safe, effective, and recommended ways to prevent Hepatitis B and HPV for preteens ages 11 or 12 (or can start at age 9) and everyone through age 26. Most individuals receive the Hepatitis B vaccine when they are babies.
  • Use Condoms.Correct and consistent use of latex condoms is highly effective in reducing STI transmission. Use a condom every time you have anal, vaginal, or oral sex.
  • Get Tested.Knowing your STI status is a critical step to stopping STI transmission. If you know you are infected, you can take steps to protect yourself and your partners. Even if you are asymptomatic, or not experiencing any changes in your health, you can unknowingly spread an infection to your partner.

How We Can Help

ACCESS has resources and programs aimed to support your sexual health. The ACCESS Illinois Family Planning Program offers low to no-cost STI tests, education and treatments for individuals in need as well as contraception, birth control, health education and referrals for PrEP, an HIV prevention method.

Know your status and make an appointment to see one of our ACCESS providers in person or virtually today.

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As of September 11, 2023